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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Founders, Then & Now: A Meditation on Change

Having been a "regular" for much of Founders' existence, Steve has watched them go from struggling brewpub to major player in the craft beer scene.

Red's Rye,
Founder's taproom
By Steve Siciliano

Our group calls itself the “old regulars” because we were there from the beginning, before the acclaim and the well-deserved accolades. Before anyone had heard of Founders outside of Michigan and long before the taproom became a Mecca for beer aficionados from all across the country.

One time back in the early days Barb and I were the only people at the pub. Dave was behind the bar and there were only three beers on tap. I remember thinking—worrying—that maybe they wouldn't make it. Somehow they kept going.

Barb and I were among the regulars who kept going too. We kept going for the same reasons people have gone to their favorite taverns and pubs throughout the centuries—for the comfortable feel, the camaraderie, for the unspoken pleasure of being surrounded by familiar faces. For us, that was always enough. When a new brewer came on and introduced a chalkboard full of new, interesting beers—solid, push-the-envelope beers—it was, for us, an added bonus. For others, it was time to sit up and take notice.

Things are much different now than in the early days. Now there’s national recognition and a new location. There are times when Barb and I don’t recognize anyone in the massive taproom and others when it’s so busy we can’t find a seat. Recently a group of us "old regulars" sat scrunched around a table, some of us grumbling about how crowded it was and lamenting the fact that we had lost our pub. While I looked around at the unfamiliar faces, at the jam-packed bar, at the middle-aged men and women in business suits, at young folks with dyed hair, tattoos and piercings, at parents drinking their beer while eating dinner with their children, I had an epiphany: the change has been good.

Maybe in some ways us old regulars have lost the pub we once knew, but what the community has gained is so much greater—an immensely popular place that is exposing people to good beer, a business that has done as much as ArtPrize or the Medical Mile to put our city on the map, an example and an incentive for countless other aspiring entrepreneurs looking to realize their dreams. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the once struggling brewery has changed the beer culture in our city, the state, perhaps even beyond.

Founders, I raise my mug to you. Cheers.

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